Structure Mapping for Technical Writers - Wellington

See the wood and the trees

When writing or reviewing a longer document, it is far too easy to be drawn into the detail and lose sight of the overall architecture: a classic case of not seeing the wood for the trees.

At the 2012 TechCommNZ conference, Dr Neil James from Australia presented a short introduction to the Plain English Foundation's structure mapping tool. Participant feedback was very positive, but everyone suggested it would be worth presenting as a full-day workshop. Please read on for further details of this full-day session.


For experienced technical writers, the workshop will tie together some concepts you may already apply on a more intuitive level, as well as providing some new concepts drawing from recent research. But the workshop is also suitable for less experienced technical writers by providing a solid foundation to approach complex texts.

Workshop content

Structure mapping evaluates the information design of a long text against five criteria:

  • structure design
  • complexity
  • balance
  • headings
  • numbering and navigation.

The tool applies a series of benchmarks against each criterion to score the architecture of a document and identify how it can be improved. It is extremely relevant for long technical documents such as help files, instructions and manuals.

Workshop benefits

The workshop provides a systematic framework to review the information architecture of a complex text. This will help you when working solo or in tandem with subject matter experts to diagnose and address structural problems clearly and objectively.

Learning methods

Neil uses a mixture of classroom, individual and small-group activities. Participants will learn the theory and research behind the tool's criteria, but then apply the concepts to real-world examples relevant to their own contexts. The mix of activities and Neil's presentation style make the workshop highly enjoyable as well as effective.

Feedback from technical writers

Neil has successfully presented this tool and workshop at several international conferences for editors, technical writers and plain language practitioners. Following are comments from participants in the TechCommNZ introductory workshop in 2012:

Excellent workshop. I learnt a lot that I can put into practice.

Great content! Neil really knows what he is talking about.

Really useful tool.

Great to apply a model that gathers together stuff I've been doing intuitively.

Lively and interesting presentation.

The exercises really helped to drive the learning.

Excellent materials for technical writers.

Neil's personal interaction was great.

Very impressive.


Earlybird registrations (date varies for each location - see below):

  • Members: $430.00 ($494.50 incl GST)
  • Non-members; $555.00 ($638.25 incl GST)

Standard registrations:

  • Members: $480.00 ($552.00 incl GST)
  • Non-members: $605.00 ($695.75 incl GST)
Note: Members = members of TechCommNZ and affiliated organisations:NZATD, ASTC(NSW), ASTC(VIC), PRINZ.

Cost covers tea/coffee, a light lunch and course materials.

Please read our payment terms and conditions.

Session details


Wednesday 9th April
Time: 9:00am - 4:30pm
Tea and coffee will be served on arrival from 8:30am.

Location: Chancellor 4, James Cook Hotel
147 The Terrace, Wellington ( location map)

Please review the map or directions to the venue you will be visiting. You might find it useful to print them out for reference on the day of the workshop.

Earlybird registrations on or before 31st March.

About the presenter

Dr Neil James is the Executive Director of the Plain English Foundation in Australia, which combines document editing, training and evaluation with a community programme to promote ethical public language. The Foundation has trained more than 13,000 professionals in writing skills. It presents around 200 workshops and completes more than 50 editing projects each year. Neil has a doctorate in English from the University of Sydney.He has published three books and over 75 articles and essays on language and literature.

His co-authored book, Modern Manglish, skewers the worst excesses of tautology, doublespeak and mixed metaphor, illustrated by Australias premier editorial cartoonist Alan Moir. His previous Writing at Workhas become a standard reference on workplace communication.

Neil is a regular speaker about language in the media throughout Australia, where he features on the ABC Radio network. He often presents at Australian and international events, which have taken him from Amsterdam, Oslo and Washington to Auckland, Lisbon and Mexico City.

He is also active in developing communication as a profession. In 2008, Neil was elected to chair the International Plain Language Working Group that is developing international standards and certification for plain language.

Event Registration